World’s Muslim population will surpass Christians this century
Islam is growing more rapidly than any other religion in the world, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center that says the religion will nearly equal Christianity by 2050 before eclipsing it around 2070, if current trends continue.
“The main reason Muslims are growing not only in number but in share worldwide is because of where they live,” Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research, tells NPR’s Tom Gjelten. “Muslim populations are concentrated in some of the fastest-growing parts of the world.”
The finding is part of the center’s report on the future of the world’s religions. You can see the full report at the Pew site, which has also published an interactive tool to help readers drill down by geography and religion.
“As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31 percent) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth,” the Pew report says. “Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population.”
Those numbers are predicted to shift in the coming decades, as the world’s population rises to 9.3 billion by the middle of this century. In that time, Pew projects, Islam will grow by 73 percent while Christianity will grow by 35 percent — resulting in 2.8 billion Muslims and 2.9 billion Christians worldwide.
In addition to presenting raw numbers and projections, the Pew report looks at the demographic trends that are fueling the changes.
One factor is the wide range of fertility rates, with only Christians and Muslims currently higher than the world average fertility rate of 2.5.
Buddhists are seen having the lowest fertility rate — part of the reason why Buddhism is projected to be the world’s only major religion that’s projected not to grow over the next four decades.
While the growth of Islam is tied to fast-growing populations, Pew says, another group will be shrinking: those who are atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with a religion. That group will decline globally, the center’s reports says, despite “increasing in countries such as the United States and France.”
APRIL 2, 2015
Why Muslims Are Rising Fastest and the Unaffiliated Are Shrinking as a Share of the World’s Population
Pew Research Center
The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050.
- The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
- Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.
- The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
- In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
- India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
- In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
- Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Europe is the only region where the total population is projected to decline. Europe’s Christian population is expected to shrink by about 100 million people in the coming decades, dropping from 553 million to 454 million.
While Christians will remain the largest religious group in Europe, they are projected to drop from three-quarters of the population to less than two-thirds.
By 2050, nearly a quarter of Europeans (23%) are expected to have no religious affiliation, and Muslims will make up about 10% of the region’s population, up from 5.9% in 2010. Over the same period, the number of Hindus in Europe is expected to roughly double, from a little under 1.4 million (0.2% of Europe’s population) to nearly 2.7 million (o.4%), mainly as a result of immigration. Buddhists appear headed for similarly rapid growth in Europe – a projected rise from 1.4 million to 2.5 million.
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In North America, Muslims and followers of “other religions” are the fastest-growing religious groups.
In the United States, for example, the share of the population that belongs to other religions is projected to more than double – albeit from a very small base – rising from 0.6% to 1.5%.9 Christians are projected to decline from 78% of the U.S. population in 2010 to 66% in 2050, while the unaffiliated are expected to rise from 16% to 26%. And by the middle of the 21st century, the United States is likely to have more Muslims (2.1% of the population) than people who identify with the Jewish faith (1.4%).
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